2007 Playoff Predictions: Round 1

[UPDATE: http://myespn.go.com/blogs/truehoop/0-23-101/Introducing-TrueHoop-s-2007-Stat-Geek-Smackdown.html
and
http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/playoffs2007/news/story?page=Smackdown07]

I was asked by Henry Abbott of TrueHoop to join an NBA playoff prediction contest against other number crunching analysts. I figure I have a head up on the competition, being that I used to run the blogger’s bracket. Nonetheless I took to the task seriously, using as much information as possible. Not only do I take into account numbers from my own stat page, but I also looked back at 16 years of playoff data to come up with my predictions. And wherever needed, I asked my 7 day old daughter to assist (yes yours truly became a father last weekend — and like a true Knick fan, KB2.0 already hates the Nets).

This was my submission to Henry, so I apologize if it appears elsewhere and you accidentally read it twice. Wish me luck as I go against some of the NBA’s best statistical gurus.

Dallas in 4
The Warriors have 2 main strengths: forcing turnovers and good shooting. Unfortunately for them, those strengths don’t match up well against the Mavericks. Dallas is good at keeping the ball and holding their opponents to a low field goal percentage. Nellie’s poor rebounding team will be their undoing, as the Mavs are the most well rounded rebounding playoff team in the West.

Phoenix in 6
While it’s possible that Kobe Bryant will have a scoring explosion, the Lakers are awful on defense. And guess which team lead the NBA in offensive efficiency? Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%), which adjusts for three point shots, is the best measure of a team’s shooting prowess. And Phoenix’s 55.1% eFG is 3 points higher than the NBA’s second best shooting team. Despite the disparity, the Suns energetic offense and the Kobe-Raja matchup should make this one of the most entertaining series.

San Antonio in 6
The Spurs have the league’s best point differential in the league. This is important because point differential corresponds better in year to year winning than wins and losses. So if you’re a Spurs fan, this bodes well for next year’s performance as well. Why haven’t I given any analysis for this series? There have been 11 non-strike playoff seasons since a #1 or a #2 seed lost in the first round. Even if it were going to happen this year, this isn’t the series anyway.

Houston in 7
These complementary teams should have a close series that goes 6 or 7 games. Utah’s main weakness is sending opponents to the free throw line (30th in FT/FG), but that’s a weakness that Houston won’t exploit on offense (26th in FT/FG). Meanwhile the Rockets have the 3rd best defensive efficiency, but they are evenly matched by the league’s 3rd best offensive efficiency. Instead the game will be won on the other end of the floor, where the Rockets average offense (14th) faces off against a sub par Jazz defense (19th).

Detroit in 4
The Pistons do one thing better than anyone else in the league: keep the ball. Detroit is first in the NBA in turnovers per possession. Unfortunately for Mickey Mouse and his neighbors, Orlando is the NBA’s worst team in holding onto the ball. Detroit won all 4 games during the regular season (with the turnover advantage in 3 of those 4), and I see the same thing happening in the playoffs.

Cleveland in 5
With Arenas and Butler injured, you can put the Wizards on the hibachi.

Toronto in 6
This series will be a litmus test for the term “playoff experience.” The Nets trio of Kidd, Jefferson, and Carter has appeared in 184 post season games in their career. Meanwhile Toronto’s sextet of Bosh, Parker, Ford, Bargnani, Garbajosa, and Peterson has only played in 18. But clich?s aside, the Raptors are clearly the better team here. Finally Canada gets justice for Vince Carter dogging it in his final season up north.

Miami in 6
Everything statistically points to Chicago over Miami. The Bulls have a fantastic point differential, and Miami is one Dwayne Wade crash to the floor from dipping their toes in the sand. But the Bulls point differential is misleading (in my opinion) due to an inordinate amount of blow out victories. And Miami’s injury filled regular season may not be a true example of their strength. Here’s a stat that pushed me over the edge: Shaq’s team has beaten a better team in 5 of the last 6 playoffs.

Reverse Pythagoras

Yesterday I spoke about two teams that were outperforming their expected win percentage, and either needed to address some issues or look towards a bleaker second half. In today’s installment, I’m going to look at the other end of the spectrum, or teams that are underperforming with respect to their expected win percentage.

The New Jersey Nets boast the East’s best trio of Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, and Vince Carter. While all three have suffered through injuries in their past, the three have been relatively healthy this season, as only Jefferson has missed a handful of games. However the Nets’ savings in bandages haven’t translated into wins on the court. New Jersey is a disappointing 10-14 so far this year. The Nets were suppose to be one of the key teams in a weak East, but at this point they aren’t even winning the dreadful Atlantic. There’s good news for Brooklynites with houses on the Jersey shore: the Nets aren’t all that bad. According to their expected win percentage, the Nets are underperforming and should be a few games ahead of Boston, not a half game behind. Although a .506 expected win percentage isn’t anything to write home about, only 3 other Eastern Conference teams have a better point differential. That should translate into home field for at least the first round.

Like the Nets another Eastern team that had high hopes in the preseason isn’t performing up to par. Although the Bulls rebounded from headband-gate to a decent 14-10 start, Chicago’s expected win percentage puts them at the top of the East. With the addition of Ben Wallace, the previously strong Bulls’ defense is becoming one of the league’s best. Currently their 102.8 defensive efficiency (pts allowed per 100 possessions) is 3rd overall in the league. Meanwhile the foursome of Gordon, Deng, Nocioni, and Hinrich coupled with Ben’s rebounding is making the Bulls respectable on offense. Chicago has an offensive efficiency of 108.3, good enough for 10th in the league.

If these two teams are playing the way they are now, they should see some improvement in the coming weeks. The Nets would be Atlantic champs, and the Bulls would vie for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.


A quick note on tonight?s Charlotte-Knicks game.

I commented two nights ago:

“Did anyone else go ballistic when the game was tied in regulation, and Crawford pulls up for a 3? That drives me absolutely nuts, and Jamal does it all the time. You need 1 point. Move in 6 feet & take the 18 footer! Or drive & try to draw a foul. A three point shot is about the worst shot you can take in that situation.”

So what does Jamal do in the closing seconds of regulation with the game tied? Take a foot on the line 2 pointer. Again there is no attempt to drive & draw a foul. There is even no attempt to work for a better shot (there was 21 seconds on the clock), nor is anyone else involved in the play. Crawford just takes the time off the clock, does a crossover or two and jacks it up.

In overtime the Knicks have the ball in the final seconds with the game tied. Isiah draws up a play, of which I’m not privy to. The execution of said play? Marbury dribbles the ball until about 5 seconds are left. Curry(?) comes up for a pick, but it gets blown up. Marbury in desperation passes it up to Crawford who takes an awful shot.

If I recall correctly, someone (82games?, apbrmetrics?) did a study on plays after timeouts and showed that they are usually more efficient than normal plays. So despite the other coach bringing in his best defensive players, the ability to design an offensive play is too powerful a tool to overcome. So how come the Knicks seem to be deficient in this area? Can they hire someone to draw up a play?

If David Lee doesn’t tip that ball in…

Cheap Shot Theater

I’ll certainly admit that the life of the sports columnist can be pretty difficult. It’s hard to think of interesting things to write about constantly, but really, far too often, you’ll see columnists churn out basically what I call “cheap shot columns,” where they just play to their audience’s pre-conceived notions, and tear down players and general managers and coaches/managers because they know it’ll be easy and most of their audience will be receptive to their views.

Occasionally, I figure I’ll point some out when I see them.

Today, Adrian Wojnarowski had one such column over at Yahoo! Sports. Read it for yourself here.

Wojnarowski opens with the delightfully brilliant assertion that Stephon Marbury is a “loser.” One of the biggest losers in basketball history, according to Wojnarowski. He goes on to make the brilliant insight that Stephon Marbury is not as good of a player as Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd and Vince Carter.

Do not get me wrong. As everyone here knows, Marbury has looked like a shade of his former self. But that’s not what Wojnarowski is complaining about. No, he is saying things like…

So now, Marbury is feigning confusion over Thomas’ pass-first directives, the way he did under the deposed Larry Brown. Somehow, he doesn’t understand his coach’s orders unless it includes 20 shots a night for him.

Next to the whole “he’s a loser” canard, that was Wojnarowski’s biggest cheap shot.

I understand he wants to grab attention, but how much harder would it have been to just rip Marbury for good, logical reasons? The guy’s having a terrible year. If you want to write a column saying so, then that’s fine by me. So, if you have that already, why make up stuff?

There’s your Cheap Shot Theater for today.

Grunwald’s Previous Record Not Impressive

Earlier today, the New York Knicks hired Glen Grunwald as Vice President to assist Isiah Thomas in the front office. With Zeke pulling double duty this year as coach & general manager it’s no secret that the Knicks were looking for help, and Grunwald’s ties to Isiah made him the front runner. Unfortunately Grunwald’s track record leaves a lot to be desired.

Grunwald’s fans and family members (which might be one and the same) would argue that he took over a 16 win team and in 2 years had them in the playoffs. His best moves in Toronto were made through the draft as he grabbed both Vince Carter and Chris Bosh. Meanwhile some Knick fans might remember Grunwald as the architect behind the 2001 team that ousted them in the playoffs. However his win-now strategy left the Raptors in disarray, and within 2 years the team was back among the league’s worst. By the time Toronto fired him, the team had the 3rd worst record in the league.

The Toronto GM squandered his young talent in favor of fading veterans. Grunwald let future perennial All Star Tracy McGrady walk on a sign and trade, and he traded a 24 year old Marcus Camby for a 35 year old Charles Oakley. Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Willis, Dell Curry, Muggsy Bogues, Dee Brown, and Mark Jackson would have made a decent team in the mid-90s. But under Grunwald the Raptors acquired these 30-something players to form an NBA old-age home. It seemed that he insisted on surrounding Vince Carter with any veterans instead of veteran talent.

So far the organization is tight lipped on Grunwald’s duties. Most likely Glen will man the store while Isiah works on the Xs & Os, but Thomas will have the final say on any deal. Knick fans should be fearful of Grunwald’s spendthrift past, but his draft picks show him to be a good evaluator of young talent. If Thomas can keep Grunwald scouring for cheap young talent and away from pricey geriatrics, the signing could be fruitful. Of course the same could be said of Isiah Thomas as well.

The Knicks Guard Quandary

Going into preseason the Knicks were suppose to have stability at the guard spots. During the summer Allan Houston initially slipped out from under the guillotine that bore his name (the “Allan Houston Rule”), which meant another season of uncertainty concerning how much and what role he would play on the team. However his knee had other ideas, and forced Houston to retire before the season started. Isiah Thomas had brought in Quentin Richardson and drafted Nate Robinson which meant the Knicks would have depth and reliability coming into the season. Unfortunately things haven’t turned out as planned.

Quentin Richardson, who was to solidify the shooting guard & small forward spots, has been a disappointment thus far. Injuries kept Richardson from practicing with his new teammates during the preseason, so when the season started he was frequently out of position and was unfamiliar with the plays. So far this season he has yet to surpass his career average in points (12.5) in any game for New York. If matters weren’t bad enough, Friday he left the game after playing only 6 minutes and was a “DNP-Back Spasms” for Sunday’s game. So not only has Quentin’s various maladies kept him from settling into the Knicks’ offense, but now they are keeping him from playing altogether. While Richardson played in 79 games last year, the Knicks might have purchased the 2003-2004 version, where he only averaged 62 games a season.

At the risk of being unpopular, Nate Robinson might be the worst Knick still in Brown’s rotation. Although Robinson is an undersized rookie shooting guard trying to learn the point, he has done little to help his team. While he’s nearly a better rebounder (5.0 REB/40) than Marbury (3.4 REB/40) and Crawford (2.4 REB/40) combined, Nate is shooting a feeble 36.3% (eFG) and fouling opponents at a ridiculous rate for a point guard (6.6 PF/40). Usually a player whose shooting percentage resembles Ty Cobb’s career batting average might try to minimize the damage they are doing to their team by shooting the ball less. Unfortunately for New York, Robinson is doing more jacking than a Rock Star Games convention (19.4 FGA/40 second on the team). Nate’s selfishness is so bad that his usage rate (27.1) is nearly identical to All Star Vince Carter’s (27.2).

When Robinson gets the ball, he streaks into the paint where the defense colapses around him. For most point guards this is an ideal situation, because it means a teammate is open for an easy shot. Unfortunately for Nate he infrequently passes out of the double team, and instead forces up a contested shot. Opponents have caught on to this and send one or two help defenders into the paint, knowing that the Knicks’ guard won’t burn them by passing to the open man. With Brown’s impatience with shoot first point guards and players who foul incessantly, one has to wonder if Robinson would get the same treatment if he were 6’1.

Surprisingly, the only guard to show improvement is the player in which I had the least amount of confidence. Jamal Crawford seems to have retired his patented “off balanced-21 footer-hand in my face” shot. He is attempting less shots (14.4 FGA/40 compared to 16.3 last year) and has become more aggressive pushing the ball towards the hoop. Once his free throw percentage (currently 67%) returns to his career average (83%), he could have the most efficient season of his career. One thing Crawford needs to do better is give the ball up in transition. At least twice this year he has kept it for himself trying to elude defenders with a fancy dribble or a fake pass and go the full length of the court. Jamal needs to give up the rock when the Knicks have the numbers in the open court.

Even the Knicks best guard has been wildly inconsistent. Stephon Marbury had point totals of 10, 4, and 9 until erupting for 27 on Sunday against his cousin. Unfortunately for New York, they don’t face any more point guards from the Marbury family tree. Until that game, he seemed content to hang out on the perimeter and feed the ball to everyone else. Stephon’s main weapon is attacking the basket with a strong ability to finish or find the open man. Whether it is due to Larry Brown being overly restrictive or Marbury taking his instructions to an extreme, having him handcuffed to the three point line is not the best way to utilize his talents.

The other day Marbury took a lot of slack from the media & the fans for requesting to move to the shooting guard position. It doesn’t make sense that Robinson’s leash is long enough that he can take any shot he pleases, and Crawford is encouraged to make his way into the paint. Stephon is superior to his teammates in both passing and scoring from inside. The Knicks could help their last place offense and add stability to their backcourt by letting Marbury return to the form that made him one of the better offensive point guards in the league.

Looking at the 2005 NBA Draft (Part II)

In part one I evaluated the Knick?s draft night based on their strategy, a blend of best player available and need. Now, let?s take a look at the other teams in the East. To review briefly, I will review each team?s draft based on its apparent strategy (best player available or need/fit) and categorize it as ?Accept,? ?Revise and Resubmit,? or ?Reject.? Players are listed by overall selection number, name, height (with shoes), wingspan (if available), weight (lbs.), position, and school.

Eastern Conference

Atlanta Hawks

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Reject (Getting a talented player is not enough)

2. Marvin Williams (6-8-1/4, 7-3-1/2, 228.2#), F, N. Carolina

31. Salim Stoudamire (6-1-1/4, 6-4, 185.6#), G, Arizona

59. Cenk Aykol (6-4, NA, 195), PG, Turkey

The evaluation has little to do with Williams or Stoudamire, both talented players. It certainly has nothing to do with 18 year old Cenk Aykol. It has everything to do with the Hawks. The Hawks are like the NBA?s version of George Castanza. They can?t get a 2nd date yet somehow manage to have commitment issues. Perennially in the market for a new ?savior,? Atlanta has a fear of commitment worthy of a few couch sessions with Dr. Phil. They seem uniquely unable to forego their infatuation with the next ?great? player long enough to get on with the business of building around real live players. Last season Atlanta acquired talented veteran forward Al Harrington, who is just entering his prime. Atlanta also drafted the raw-but-freakishly athletic youngster Josh Smith along with jack-of-all-trades swingman Josh Childress (who sports the league?s best Afro since Dr. J). Weren?t these the building blocks of the future? I suppose, but in “The City too Busy to Hate” those guys were so five minutes ago. The Hawks appear to be starting all over with Williams as the new centerpiece; I?ve heard little from them about how these pieces are supposed to fit together. Is Williams worth it? Perhaps, but it seems just as likely that once the chinks in his armor are revealed during the course of yet another 50-60 loss season this summer?s ?it girl? will be supplanted by the next young stud forward next June.

Boston Celtics

* Strategy: Best Player Available/fit

* Review: Accept (with minor changes)

18. Gerald Green (6-7-1/4, 6-9-3/4, 192#), SG, Gulf Shores Academy HS (TX)

50. Ryan Gomes (6-7-3/4, 7-2, 248#), F, Providence

53. Orien Greene (6-4, NA, 208#), PG, LA-Lafayette

In one respect the Celts got lucky when Gerald Green fell to them. Still, credit Danny Ainge for exorcising the ghosts of the 2001 draft when the Celts chose Joe Forte, Johnson, and Kedrick Brown. I bet the Celtics wish they?d hung on to Joe Johnson now rather than trading him for Rodney Rogers and a sack of fool?s gold. Green may not end up being the next Tracy McGrady but I wouldn?t be surprised if his career travels a path similar to Johnson?s. Getting Ryan Gomes at #50 may have actually been a much better indicator of Ainge?s front office skill than acquiring Green, who fell into their laps. Gomes is a skilled ?tweener who couldn?t play on every team. But what team has done a better job than Boston of getting the most out of ?tweeners in recent years (think Antoine Walker, Eric Williams, and the aforementioned Rogers)? Gomes, who played his college ball down the road at Providence, is a nice fit on that team and should contribute as an undersized PF on the second unit. Orien Greene could use some seasoning in the NBDL or Europe but his defense could get him on an NBA roster eventually, even if it?s not in Boston.

Charlotte Bobcats

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (with major changes)

5. Raymond Felton (6-0-1/4, 6-4-1/4, 199.2#), PG, N. Carolina

13. Sean May (6-8-1/2, 7-1-1/4, 258.8#), PF, N. Carolina

Though I am not one who thinks Raymond Felton is a reach at #5 based on talent I don?t think he could be equally impactful on every team. Felton excels at pushing the tempo. However, Charlotte?s roster doesn?t appear to be equipped to play that style. While Gerald Wallace and Okefor can fly up and down the floor, starters Kareem Rush (UFA) and Primoz Brezec are halfcourt players. It would have seemed to make more sense for Charlotte to select one of the SGs (most likely Wright or McCants) to pair with Felton rather than a power forward. With Brezec, Okefor, Malik Allen, and Melvin Ely all splitting minutes between the 4 and 5 May could have a difficult time finding minutes. On the other hand Wright or McCants could have easily ended up as the starter after training camp. I love the Felton selection if the team is committed to running but they?ll need to move another player or two for the May selection to make sense to me.

Chicago Bulls

* No selections in this draft

Cleveland Cavaliers

* Acquired the rights to F/C Martynus Andriuskevicius (the 44th overall selection).

Detroit Pistons

* Strategy: Need/Fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (with major changes)

26. Jason Maxiell (6-6-1/4, 7-3-1/4, 257.6#), PF, Cincinnati

56. Amir Johnson (6-10, NA, 220#), PF/C, Westchester HS (CA)

60. Alex Acker (6-3-3/4, 7-0, 183), G, Pepperdine

If this were anyone but Joe Dumars this draft haul would warrant a flat-out ?reject.? Maxiell is a classic case of choosing a player who fits a particular role on a team. Joe Dumars certainly could have gotten better talent at the same position by choosing Wayne Simien, an accomplished defender and rebounder but much more polished scorer, who was drafted by Miami three picks later. Maxiell is an athletic but undersized forward who is something of a Reggie Evans clone, though a tad shorter. The big risk with Maxiell is that he?s undersized and one-dimensional on a team that already has a lot of what he does. Also, since the team can hardly find spare minutes for Darko Milicic it?s unclear where Maxiell?s minutes come from unless someone gets hurt or dealt. Detroit?s 2nd round picks appear destined for the D-League, though Acker may be able to contribute.

On a whole other level, the conspiracy theorist in me suspects that the Maxiell pick is a loyalty test from Joe Dumars. If Larry Brown returns to coach and subsequently plays Maxiell more minutes than Milicic Dumars will simply have him killed. Never go against the family Larry.

Indiana Pacers

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Accept

17. Danny Granger (6-8-1/2, 7-1-1/2, 225.4#), SF, New Mexico

46. Ezram Lorbeck (6-10, NA, 240#), PF, Slovenia

Granger is a true small forward without any glaring holes in his game. His ceiling may be lower than some other players in this draft but he is virtually bust-proof (barring injury) because of his defense, passing, and overall basketball IQ. Jonathan Bender may have played his last game in an Indiana Pacer uniform; or perhaps I should stay spent his last stint on the Pacer injured list. I doubt the addition of Granger would compel the Pacers to move Ron Artest but they could certainly entertain offers. Lorbeck is a nice choice late in round 2. He may never come back to the states but he?s a nice chip to have.

Miami Heat

* Strategy: Best Player Available/Need

* Review: Accept

29. Wayne Simien (6-9, 7-0, 255.8), PF, Kansas

Upgrading from Damon Jones, a solid 3rd guard, is in my estimation Miami?s first order of business. However, short of trading way up, Miami was not going to do that in this draft. Choosing Wayne Simien that late in the first round leaves little room for criticism. Simien most likely won?t need to start since Miami is not likely to lose Udonis Haslem (since he’s not going to get more than the MLE) but Simien will probably be counted on to provide 10-20 minutes per night. Simien steadily improved at Kansas, going from a strictly back-to-the-basket scorer and putback artist to a steady mid-range jump shooter. He boards, runs the floor, is tough as nails, and solid from the FT line. He also measured 6?9? in shoes; where his height had been a concern. The troubling issue with Simien has been his inability to stay healthy. Guys rarely come to the pros and get healthier than they were in college.

Milwaukee Bucks

* Strategy: Need/fit

* Review: Revise and resubmit (See comments on Atlanta Hawks)
1. Andrew Bogut (7-0-1/4, 7-3, 250.6#), C, Utah

36. Ersan Ilysova (6-9, 7-1-1/4, 208.8#)

My issue with the Bucks is somewhat similar to my issue with the Hawks, though not to quite the same degree. I don?t have a quarrel with selecting Bogut. A big man who passes well can always help a team even on nights when he?s not scoring. In fact, Bogut’s passing and ability to play in the high post may well add 2-3 ppg to Desmond Mason?s average. But what is the Buck?s vision? I don?t understand the firing of Terry Porter?or at least its timing. (Was he a Marvin Williams man?) I want to see what the Bucks are committed to putting around Bogut to maximize his talents before I buy into them. I was not all that taken with Milwaukee?s 2nd round selection, Ilysova, when they could have taken Croatian playmaker Roko Leni-Ukic to backup Mo Williams.

New Jersey Nets

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Accept (minor changes)

15. Antoine Wright (6-6-1/4, 6-8-3/4, 202.6#), G, Texas A&M

43. Mile Ilic (7-1, NA, 240#), C, Yugoslavia

I like the selection. New Jersey’s bench is woeful. Wright gives them depth as well as a player who can create his own shot, something that only Vince Carter does currently. The only other player the Nets might have considered here is Hakim Warrick, a power forward who could also bring a lot of energy off the bench. Warrick, a classic ?tweener, is less of a risk in New Jersey because anyone who can run and catch the way Warrick can will look good on the floor with Jason Kidd. Ilic is another big kid they can develop overseas at no cost.

Orlando Magic

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Reject

11. Fran Vasquez (6-11, NA, 230), PF, Spain

38. Travis Diener (6-1, 5-11-3/4, 165.2), PG, Marquette

While Toronto?s Rob Babcock took the lion?s share of the draft night grief I thought Orlando had a much worse draft. At least no one is questioning the talent of Babcock?s selections this year. Orlando?s situation seemed to be one tailor made for trading down or out of this draft. It?s not clear to me what Vasquez brings to Orlando that they aren?t already getting from Tony Battie. What they really needed from this draft (a big point guard) they weren’t going to get at #11 without trading up or reaching. Furthermore, Vasquez?s buyout from his Spanish team may be more complicated than originally thought. Travis Deiner, the team?s second round pick is an even smaller version of last year’s first, Jameer Nelson, and the second coming of Scott Brooks. I have a difficult time seeing how these two players help Orlando, either as talent for the future or by filling specific roles. If you?re a Magic fan you are hoping hard that the front office is working on some other moves.

Philadelphia 76ers

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Revise and resubmit (major changes)

45. Louis Williams (6-1, NA, NA), PG, S. Gwinnett HS (GA)

Armed with only a second round pick the Sixers took a flyer on a high schooler; but the wrong one in my opinion. Even if they re-sign Samuel Dalembert why not take a chance on one of the high school big men, Andrey Blatche or Amir Johnson, rather than the 6-1 SG Williams? Guards are a lot easier to find.

Toronto Raptors

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Accept

7. Charlie Villanueva (6-9-1/2, 7-0-1/4, 236.6#), PF, Connecticut

16. Joey Graham (6-6-1/2, 6-8, 216.6#), G/F, Oklahoma State

For all the ?hootin? and hollarin?? that went on surrounding the 7th pick I didn?t necessarily see the big problem with it. Clearly, Villanueva and Bosh have overlapping skills. However, it appears that Toronto has come to the conclusion that Bosh?s future is at center, not power forward. Villanueva, a big kid with a lot of skills who virtually no one projects as a center, will be asked to play Bosh?s old power forward spot. It?s hard to see how Channing Frye or any other choice made between 8 and 16 would have been a significantly better choice in terms of talent and fit. Toronto also benefited big time from the fact that the wing players slid down as a group, helping them to acquire Joey Graham at 16. I have questions about how much offense Graham will provide. He has limited range as a shooter and doesn?t handle the ball particularly well. However he?s a very good defender, rebounder, and he runs the floor well. Overall, Toronto got two pretty talented players who should be able to contribute right away.

Washington Wizards

* Strategy: Best Player Available

* Review: Accept

49. Andray Blatche (6-11, NA, NA), PF/C, S. Kent Prep HS (CT)

It?s hard to fuss with getting a big kid with some talent at #49. He could turn into a player with a couple seasons in the D-League and a substantially lower set of expectations than those that dogged Kwame Brown. It?s hard to see a downside.

Up next: The Western Conference (Part III)

I Don’t Mind Losing

The West is over. The Phoenix Suns, or their fans, are out of excuses. Apparently, the Suns didn’t have enough rest between their Friday night OT win to end round 2 against the Mavericks and game 1 the following Sunday against the Spurs. In the second game, Phoenix was still smarting from the loss of Joe Johnson when they lost by 3 against Emperor Popovich and Darth Defense. Yesterday the Spurs won by 10, and I’m sure Joe Johnson was still rusty. Or it was playing on the road. Or just a couple of shots here or there.

One of the quotes from game 3 from Steve Nash is “we haven’t found a way to stop them yet.” My question would be have they really been looking? I know the Suns aren’t the best defensive team in the league, but they’ve really stuck with “Plan A.” Their bench outside of their 6 man rotation (McCarty, Outlaw, Voskuhl, Shirley, and Barbosa) has seen 16 minutes the entire series. That includes 13 minutes from Barbosa in game 1. It’s hard to find new ways to stop the same team that’s beat you three straight without changing the personnel. In other words Phoenix hasn’t really tried anything else.

But I digress on that topic, and would rather talk about the battle in the East. The title of this entry refers to my Blog Bracket’s Eastern pick. I chose the Heat to win in 5, but I wouldn’t mind being wrong. In fact I wouldn’t mind if the Pistons won the series, and I have 3 reasons.

1. Defensive Shift
If the Pistons could find a way to win this series, it might usher in a new era of NBA defense. And before I’m deafened from the rolling eyeballs of my readers I’d like to say this defensive era will be different from the last. The Chuck Daly Pistons created a style of play that would be distilled into it’s pure form with the Knicks and the Heat. However this new defensive era would not be of might, but rather of skill and athleticism.

There is no one from those 90s teams that is represented on today’s Pistons or Spurs. There’s no Laimbeer or Aguirre. No Ewing or Oakley. No Alonzo or P.J. The new century has brought about a new way of preventing scoring. The Pistons trio of Ben, ‘Sheed, and Tayshaun is more likely to hit your shot than your torso. Bruce Bowen couldn’t even make it with the Heat in 1997. If a Pistons-Spurs finals were to emerge, the league would have to stand up & take notice. You might see more Tayshaun Princes and less Tim Thomases.

2. Alonzo Mourning.
Ok so you’re thinking that since I’m a Knick fan, I don’t like Alonzo Mourning due to the rivalry. And you’d be damn right. But in case you root for another team and that dislike means nothing to you, I’ll give you something else to think about.

First is the New Jersey Nets. Imagine how exciting the East would have been with Kidd, Jefferson, Carter and Mourning roaming East Rutherford. Alonzo’s defense would have made the Nets a contender. New Jersey went into the playoffs winning 10 of their last 10, and that’s with Jason Collins’ sorry ass in the starting lineup (sorry the Knicks fan is coming out again). I’m well aware that Mourning was involved in the deal, but that brings me to my next point.

The second reason is the Toronto Raptors. I know every player out there wants to win a championship, but I hate players that do it only by riding on the coattails of others. That Gary Payton didn’t find it palatable to go to L.A. until Karl Malone convinced him that he’d get a ring with Shaq & Kobe makes me think it was less of a charitable act and more an ego-centric one (Kevin Pelton’s reply in the comment section in 5,4,3…)

Which brings me back to Mourning. If he wanted to do an unselfish act, he could have suited up & been a mentor to budding big men Bosh & Araujo. Alonzo could have helped be a difference in Toronto’s season, and maybe help them make the playoffs. Instead he never played a game in purple, and pouted until Toronto released him so he could fly south back to Miami where ‘Zo could earn his first ring by playing 20 minutes a night.

3. An Intriguing East in 2006.
Let me ask you a question, which storyline would be better for next year? The Heat make themselves the kings of the East by beating the defending champions Detroit Pistons. So Detroit becomes a fluke champion, having won the title against a flawed and injured Lakers team. Every other team in the East becomes an afterthought.

OR

The Pistons move on to the Finals for the second straight year, and Shaq goes home for the second straight summer wondering how the biggest man in sports lost to a team effort. So the Big Guy comes back next year with three chips on his shoulder to settle. The first with Kobe & the Laker management for rejecting him. The second against the Pistons for stopping him twice in a row. The last against the rest of the league for choosing the diminutive Nash as MVP instead.

If the Heat win this year, it’d make them as instant favorites next year. However if Detroit pulls off the improbable, who would you pick as the 2006 East favorites? Detroit? Miami? Indiana? New Jersey? New York? (Sorry had to throw that last one in there.)

I have nothing against Shaq. Or Dwayne Wade, who seems to be on the verge of becoming one of the league’s elite. It’d just be a more interesting league if Detroit went on to the Finals.